Last week, I spent an entire day working with eighth graders at Highland Middle School. I shared some of my personal life stories to reinforce the message that “You can’t change your past, but you can change your future.” I then challenged the students to think about their own life goals and encouraged them to develop a one word mission statement. The wordle above is a compilation of those words. As I watched students write their mission words, I became particularly intrigued by what was missing. Not a single student mentioned “money” or “riches” as being part of their lifelong goals. Instead, their missions were altruistic and other centered.
You sometimes hear people talk about the “next generation” with a note of despair in their voices. I wonder how much time those people actually spend with the next generation? I have recently been encouraged by interesting reports claiming that the students we are teaching now will actually rebel against their parents by fighting materialism. What a refreshing rebellion! As I taught class after class of well-mannered, enthusiastic students with enormous potential, I began to celebrate their determination to fight for happiness and love instead of money. I admired their commitment to help, dream, protect, unite, and believe. Maybe this generation will be defined more by what they do than by the titles they hold.
A great deal of wisdom resides in the youth at Highland Middle School. Realizing that most of my blog audience consists of prospective and current teachers, let’s talk about how this lesson applies to us. I have talked to many undergraduate education majors who tear up when they tell me their parents don’t want them to be educators because they won’t make enough money. So what is the underlying message from Mom and Dad? They’re saying that making money is more important than making a difference. Don’t misunderstand; teachers need to continue to fight for fair pay. Honestly, though, will it ever be “fair?” During my speeches to community members, I try to help them understand that teaching is not really a career; it is a lifestyle. We never “leave” work because we carry the needs of our students with us at all times. What we do as teachers is priceless. Does society choose to base the value of our profession on how much we make or on how much we impact the future? Reassessing the teaching profession based on the values of these students makes teachers some of the richest people in the world.
As for me, I can’t wait to get back to my classroom because that’s where my true happiness lies, and that’s where I continue to be reminded, by some very wise young people, of what really matters. Thank you, Highland Middle Schoolers, for helping me see a future filled with people who want to help others instead of just make a buck. Today, I celebrate you!